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Maxwell's Silver Hammer: On Spells, Design, and the feeling of Sameyness in 5e

Do you think the spellcasters and spells in 5e are too "same-y?"

  • 1. Yes, they are too same-y.

    Votes: 29 29.6%
  • 2. They're really same-y, but I'm okay with it.

    Votes: 8 8.2%
  • 3. Maybe a little, but it's a good design choice.

    Votes: 43 43.9%
  • 4 No. I don't know what you're talking about.

    Votes: 12 12.2%
  • 5. I have VERY STRONG OPINIONS that cannot be captured in a poll.

    Votes: 2 2.0%
  • 6. Smash the control images, smash the control machines.

    Votes: 4 4.1%

  • Total voters
    98
  • Poll closed .

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
@Neonchameleon 100% genuine, though I can see how it could easily be taken the other way. When there is a consequence to a character choice, the resulting character feels more unique to me.
Yeah, it doesn't really feel like 5E makes you make particularly hard choices, especially for wizards. Not that it's game-breaking, but the sub classes and specialization just feel like options on the exact same car. Like back when GM would release 3 versions of the same car with a different name tag on them.

So if I choose to be a blow-em-up wizard, that's great. I've chosen that path which may mean some more subtle options may not be available. Or vice versa of course.
 

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Li Shenron

Legend
I am late to the thread but here are my few coppers...

1) overlapping of spells lists never made different classes feel same-y to me

2) combat cantrips are certainly a bit same-y, and that's because their original design idea was to let spellcasters have "weapon-like attacks" that looked magical; that said, they are anyway less same-y than actual weapons which (compared to 3e) have very little tactical differences, while at least most combat cantrips have a unique secondary effect

3) the only classes with too much overlapping are wizard and sorcerer, because of legacy (the 3e sorcerer was a variant wizard for players who hated vancian casting)

4) the root cause of the problem is not the sorcerer but the wizard, and the unconscious idea of all designers that wizard should be capable of everything (except healing because of holy cows), because wizards are like Gandalf and Gandalf is a god...

5) fortunately wizards do not know all the spells in their list, so it's not really a problem in practice whether they can learn potentially all the spells from another class and more, because they won't (as long as you don't do something incredibly dumb such as in the UA article that lets you swap know spells by resting)

6) contrary to what everyone thinks, I think "blasting" is actually the least appropriate spells category for wizards, from a narrative point of view; so if I had to change spell lists to increase differentiation, I would start by removing Fireball and all other AoE blasters from the wizard list no matter how iconic, and let the sorcerer be the master of chaotic destructive magic while leaving the wizard with a focus on more orderly magic
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Yeah, it doesn't really feel like 5E makes you make particularly hard choices, especially for wizards. Not that it's game-breaking, but the sub classes and specialization just feel like options on the exact same car. Like back when GM would release 3 versions of the same car with a different name tag on them.
I see what you mean. Nothing you choose in 5e character building actually has a consequence, they're all additive choices. The only cost is the opportunity cost of not picking a different option.
 

akr71

Adventurer
I see what you mean. Nothing you choose in 5e character building actually has a consequence, they're all additive choices. The only cost is the opportunity cost of not picking a different option.
Yep, I could play an illusionist with a spellbook full of necromancy spells & others could easily assume I'm playing a necromancer. That is just my opinion though & is likely why I rarely play casters. The work you and @dnd4vr are doing are making me want to change that.
 

TwoSix

The hero you deserve
Supporter
Yep, I could play an illusionist with a spellbook full of necromancy spells & others could easily assume I'm playing a necromancer. That is just my opinion though & is likely why I rarely play casters. The work you and @dnd4vr are doing are making me want to change that.
No, I hear you...I love playing casters, but I've always preferred specialized ones over generalists, dating back to 2E. I like the hard choices too! (I've mentioned this in other threads, but I like the limited spell choices of sorcerers for the same reason.)
 

the root cause of the problem is not the sorcerer but the wizard, and the unconscious idea of all designers that wizard should be capable of everything (except healing because of holy cows)
And healing is a burden, sucks up your spell slots to benefit others
, because wizards are like Gandalf and Gandalf is a god...
…angel or whatever, sure...

6) contrary to what everyone thinks, I think "blasting" is actually the least appropriate spells category for wizards, from a narrative point of view;
The traditional D&D narrative of wizard's powers - Vancian magic - is remarkably analogous to grenades, so blasting, not entirely inappropriate.
 

Yep, I could play an illusionist with a spellbook full of necromancy spells & others could easily assume I'm playing a necromancer. That is just my opinion though & is likely why I rarely play casters. The work you and @dnd4vr are doing are making me want to change that.
This is one of my pet hates about 3.X and 5e casters as well - but it's also something 5e has at least some nod towards doing well. And I think doing it actually well would do a lot about the sameyness.

This is for a couple of the spell schools it is very clear when a spell from that school is being cast by a master of that school and when it's not (most don't do it so well). In the case of Evocation spells an Evoker can tweak their spell to protect a few of the targets (so an Evoker can ground-zero the fighter with a fireball and the fighter will be entirely unharmed) and in the case of Illusion spells the Illusionist can seriously change the illusion at sixth level (burning their illusionary case full of scrolls) and make illusions have physical effect at 11th.

This makes both magic and specialisation feel much better to me. But I think the approach is fundamentally wrong, and that the bonuses for specialisation should be written into the spell and not the character description to allow for a much more flexible and appropriate range of effects. You get to use the specialist version if you qualify for it via one of the tags.
 

FrozenNorth

Adventurer
I voted "Maybe a little, but it is a good design choice" and I want to explain my vote.

Recently, I watched a couple of excerpts of "American Gods", and it occurred to me that a follower of Anansi would be a really interesting character. I really got behind the magical trickster and storyteller with spider motifs.

As I thought about the character, I felt that he would really need access to the thorn whip cantrip (refluffed as spider webbing), spider climb and web spells. This sent me to the PHB and Xanathar's.

Three choices fit the bill: Druid(Underdark), Wizard (Magic Initiate Druid) and Sorcerer (Magic Initiate Druid). I could make a follower of Anansi with any of the three. The Druid would probably be the closest, and has a lot of spells I could refluff to emphasize the spider motif (wild shaping into a spider, primal savagery, entangle with webs, conjure animals with spiders). If I took the Wizard, I would probably take the illusionist or enchanter subclass and emphasize the magical trickster aspect of the character, and if a Sorcerer, I would emphasize the storyteller aspect with my high Charisma and probably go Shadow Sorcerer to emphasize the dark aspect of the character.

I like the system being flexible enough that there are several ways of realizing a concept, but each character still playing very differently at the table.

All that being said, I agree with the posters that wizards that can cast from every school of magic is both a missed opportunity and feels really unfair to sorcerers.
 

Li Shenron

Legend
The traditional D&D narrative of wizard's powers - Vancian magic - is remarkably analogous to grenades, so blasting, not entirely inappropriate.
Oh well it certainly WAS appropriate when sorcerers didn't exist. Without doubt, wizards were THE class for flashy blasting spells, none of the other casters was.

Now I am rather focusing on the fact that we have both wizards and sorcerers, and the latter is conceived as more "raw" or innate power, and has a certain chaotic and more destructive connotation, while wizards scholarly magic carries a more orderly feel.

If it wasn't for a VERY strong sentiment that a Wizard's Fireball is one of the most iconic elements of D&D, it would have made sense to restrict most evocation spells to the sorcerer list. Then, it would have strengthened the narrative of sorcerers as "those who use their magic for chaos and destruction".

Multiclassing wizard/sorcerer would have covered special NPCs such as Halaster.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Oh well it certainly WAS appropriate when sorcerers didn't exist. Without doubt, wizards were THE class for flashy blasting spells, none of the other casters was.

Now I am rather focusing on the fact that we have both wizards and sorcerers, and the latter is conceived as more "raw" or innate power, and has a certain chaotic and more destructive connotation, while wizards scholarly magic carries a more orderly feel.

If it wasn't for a VERY strong sentiment that a Wizard's Fireball is one of the most iconic elements of D&D, it would have made sense to restrict most evocation spells to the sorcerer list. Then, it would have strengthened the narrative of sorcerers as "those who use their magic for chaos and destruction".
W
Multiclassing wizard/sorcerer would have covered special NPCs such as Halaster.
I’d certainly put a lot of the elemental stuff on the sorc list but not the wizard list, and stuff with variable outcomes like chromatic XYZ.
The only point in the OP I agree with is that the spell lists need more differentiation.
 

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